The redfin pickerel and orothonotary warbler also are sensitive to flooding. Meitzen says the redfin pickerel fish depends on medium- to high-river flow and flooding so that it can swim into the floodplain and spawn in late winter. The prothonotary warbler depends on low to moderate flood conditions during the late spring and early summer so that it can nest safely in tree cavities a few feet above the water.
Remaining species in the study include the wood stork, wood duck, shortnose sturgeon, American shad, robust redhorse, redbreast sunfish, striped bass and blueback herring, Roanoke slabshell and yellow lampmussel.
Using aerial LIDAR, a sophisticated instrument that sends laser pulses to capture images of the floodplain, Meitzen has created a precise, two-dimensional map of the floodplain that shows distinct land features and measures their elevation within a foot of accuracy.
The map allows her to determine how a specific volume of water flowing down the Congaree River spreads into the floodplain and impacts vegetation and wildlife. To validate her predictions, she and Kupfer hike into the swamp to measure the water levels.
The team also is relying on information from previous studies, including their own, on species and data about river flow from the U.S. Geological Survey in the Dept. of Interior.
Kupfer said the hard part of the research, the modeling of the water elevation and flow levels of the floodplain is nearly finished.
“The final challenge is creating the future scenarios for changes in precipitation, temperature and dam-water release so that we can accurately simulate flooding or receding water levels at the park. This will allow us to project whether the habitat for that species is likely to expand or become smaller.”
The team plans to create a series of educational materials, including a series of short videos and static maps, for the park staff to use to help educate visitors, school groups and others about the old-growth floodplain forest, how it floods, the impact that climate can have on that process and the many varied species that call Congaree home.
Kupfer said researchers have long looked to Congaree National Park as a source of information and inspiration about bottomland forest ecosystems. He said his climate research will enable researchers to apply the findings to eight parks with bottomland forest ecosystem elements in the Southeast and the methodology to a variety of floodplain environments.